The Riley County Police Department displayed on Monday its new armored vehicle to law board members and the public.
Officials said the purpose of the vehicle, a 2019 Lenco Bearcat, is to transport officers in high-risk situations and aid in the recovery and protection of civilians in harm’s way. Such incidents may include armed and barricaded individuals, hostage situations and rescue missions.
“Essentially the best thing this can do for us is afford us the opportunity to communicate with people,” said Lt. Brad Jager, a tactical team leader. “The best outcome for anything is for us to have a peaceful resolution, and the only way we can do that sometimes is establishing communication. This allows us to get up close and personal to a high-risk situation where an officer may be vulnerable, and this affords us the protection to get up and speak to those people and hopefully bring that subject out to us versus us having to go up there.”
RCPD purchased the vehicle in late 2018 after an officer-involved shooting in Manhattan in January 2018, and the armed individual barricaded himself inside his home, firing several rounds toward police.
During that incident, RCPD requested a regional use armored vehicle from Junction City to get closer to the home and provide cover for officers.
RCPD acquired the Bearcat in early May and has used it once to execute a search warrant in which officers knew the occupant of the residence was armed. Sgt. Dan Bortnick, another tactical team leader, said they also use the vehicle for training exercises.
Jager said in any high-risk situation, police use a threat matrix to determine how to respond to the situation, such as whether a team is needed and what equipment should be used. Bortnick said they will be selective in what calls they will use the vehicle in.
“We try to limit the use, so we’re not rolling up on some search warrant where it’s not needed,” Bortnick said. “We don’t want to overextend the use of the truck, so we try to be selective in what we use it for. When we do that matrix, we look heavily at weapons use and prior weapons use, that kind of thing.”
The vehicle is built on the frame of a 2019 Ford F-550 and doesn’t have mounted guns. It has a turret hatch on the roof that serves as an observation point, as well as a ram equipped with a gas-injection system. Its steel exterior, windows and tires are all rated for ballistic protection from multiple rounds from high-caliber arms.
At an August law board meeting, then-director Brad Schoen said he previously resisted recommending the purchase of an armored vehicle because of perceptions that police nationwide are overly militaristic. He said he changed his mind when he saw the number of cases in recent years in which local officers were shot at.
He referenced the January incident, and said area vehicles may not always be readily available and response time is imperative in active shooter situations.
The vehicle cost $301,080 and was obtained through the use of “seizure funds.”
The money is generated by police seizure of cash and property connected with criminal cases, all resulting from court proceedings in Riley County or federal courts. The fund cannot be used to supplant RCPD’s budget.